What is an apex predator in the animal kingdom?

More about the term apex predator : sometimes you hear a phrase on television or read it in a book and wonder what it actually means. Apex predator is a word like that for many people as it’s jargon that knowledgeable folk who work with animals or in animal research might know but to the average lay person it makes no sense.

The killer whale, apex predator of the ocean, ...

The killer whale, apex predator of the ocean, cruises a huge range of different marine habitats (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me explain what the term actually means and then explain exactly what the role of an apex predator is in the food chain and as well as all ecosystems from the African bush, to the jungle to the forest to the ocean.

Explaining what an apex predator is : The first thing to understand is that in the animal kingdom there is a hierarchy that is determined by nature itself. There are animals all the way at the bottom and conversely one species that towers above them all with a whole variety of shapes and sizes in-between.

This does not mean that one animal/insect is more important than any of the others because if one of these wildlife become extinct it affects and effects all forms of life around it. It’s more like a carefully constructed house of cards than a ladder to spite being called a food chain.

An apex predator is at the top of this house of cards. It is the animal that can eat everything below it and there is nothing above it. Humans, for instance, can be called apex predator as all animals are ours (as a species) to eat but that does not mean that we, as apex predators, are impervious to attack or death as human beings are obviously still vulnerable to attack from other predators such as sharks, lions and cheetahs.

Debunking the myth: Because of their reputation as hunters and killers apex predators like the ones aforementioned often get a bad wrap from the press/public and always get cast in the role of villains but the reality that nature does not work in a vacuum and all the animals have to play their part for earth’s sensitive ecosystem to function.

For instance, if a lioness all of sudden stopped hunting the wild buck (bokke) that roam in her region the wild buck population would mushroom out of control because there would be nothing to lessen it. Much like a plant needs pruning to truly bloom nature needs apex predators to balance everything out.

So go out there and see lions, cheetahs and other apex predators on game drives or safaris today to support all conservation efforts because a lot of them are under attack from poachers and rapid loss of environment due to urbanisation.

Are there any other safari related terms that confuse you? Post them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to explain them in the next instalment of this blog.